Colorado Peak Bagging: The 5 Best Beginner Fourteeners

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The 5 Best Beginner Fourteeners

This guest post was written by Ben and Jenna Thomas – Colorado natives, photographers, and authors of international travel blog Wild Imagining. As experienced Colorado hikers, they share with us their favorite beginner fourteeners so you can start bagging some peaks this summer.

To follow up our post on “How to Prepare for Your First Fourteener,” it only seemed appropriate that we give you some suggestions on which peaks to seek out. Below you’ll find the best beginner fourteeners in a few different categories.

Best Beginner Fourteener: Overall

Mount Bierstadt from Guanella Pass

Bierstadt is a relatively short climb of 6.5 miles round-trip and the trailhead starting from Guanella Pass is well over 11,000 feet. That means the hike is short and not too steep.  Another perk is that Mount Bierstadt is on Colorado’s Front Range. With an early enough start, you can sleep in Denver, drive to the trailhead, climb a huge mountain, and be back in time for happy hour downtown (just remember to be wary of the altitude!). Mount Bierstadt’s manageable stats and easy location make it a perfect first fourteener to test yourself on. Get more info here.

Mt Bierstadt
Photo Credit: Greg Willis

Best Beginner Fourteener: Overnight Trip

Mount of the Holy Cross via Half Moon Pass

You can do Mount of the Holy Cross in a day. But the Holy Cross Wilderness is one of the prettiest wilderness areas in the State, so getting to spend a little more time in this backcountry paradise and splitting the climb into two shorter days is a no-brainer. For the perfect intro to fourteener backpacking, on Friday night hike in and up over Half Moon Pass and down to the creek (about two miles). Set up camp there and enjoy a night in the wilderness while you get used to the altitude. Then, get up nice and early Saturday morning and tackle the ascent (around six miles round-trip). Since you’ve cut off some distance and slept at altitude, the climb to the summit and back to camp should be easier, letting you soak in the incredible views. Once you are back at camp, you can relax and enjoy another night out – that way there’s no need to rush to beat the afternoon storms back to your car or to worry about the climb back up and over Half Moon Pass. You’ll have all day Sunday to do that! Get more info here.

*Note: After a few comments from readers, we want to clarify that Holy Cross is a serious mountain, and is the most advanced on this beginner list. It should only be attempted after you’ve gotten a few 14er dayhikes under your belt and are ready to progress to an overnight backpacking trip.

** Read Next: The Best Lightweight Backpacking Gear to Lighten your Load **

Mount of the Holy CrossPhoto Credit: Ben Thomas

 Best Beginner Fourteener(s): Two for One

Grays Peak and Torreys Peak from the Grays Peak Trailhead

Easily accessible from the Front Range, Grays Peak and Torreys Peak have awesome trails the entire way. Starting with Grays and its easy switch-backs, you may wonder how you’ll pull off Torreys Peak, as it looms high over you. Once you reach the top of Grays at 14,270 feet, you’ll see that Torreys’ summit is actually three feet shorter and just a quick traverse away. The ridge that connects the two peaks is surprisingly easy and before you know it, you’ll have checked two fourteeners off your list instead of one. Plus, descending on the Torreys trail (instead of the Grays trail that you came up) will give you new views of the surrounding peaks and valley. Get more info here.

Grays & Torreys PeaksPhoto Credit: Greg Willis

Best Beginner Fourteener: Snow Descent

Mount Sherman via Fourmile Creek Trailhead

Sliding down a mountain on your raincoat, or a trash bag, or just the seat of your pants is some of the most fun you can have on a summer’s day in the mountains. Mount Sherman is our favorite for your first glissade (the fancy word for sledding on your butt). The trail from Fourmile Creek is a nice gradual ascent starting on a four wheel drive road, before switch-backing up to the saddle between Mount Sherman and Mount Sheridan. From the saddle, it is an easy climb to Sherman’s almost flat top. The whole trail is around 7.5 miles round trip, depending on how high up the 4WD road you can park your car.

*An important note: this Fourteener is for that warm mid-June day (or July, depending on the snow year), long after the last snowfall of the spring when the snow turns to slush in the late-morning. Don’t go if there has been a recent snowstorm and/or an avalanche danger warning.  Pick a line that isn’t too steep and give it a test run, using your heels to dig in and control your speed. Once you feel comfortable sliding around a bit, enjoy the exhilaration as in a matter of seconds, you cover a distance that took you all morning to climb up. Get more info here.

** Read Next: What to Wear Hiking **

Hiking Mount Sherman - one of Colorado's best 14ersPhoto Credit: Ben Thomas

Best Beginner Fourteener: Jaw-Dropping Beauty

Handies Peak from American Basin

At the height of wildflower season, usually around mid-July to the start of August, American Basin is unlike anything we have ever seen. Columbine, Colorado’s state flower, carpet the alpine slope above the trail, and on the other side down near the creek, red Indian Paintbrush, Bluebells, and purple Baby Elephant cover the faces all the way up the basin to the high alpine Sloan Lake. From there, one of the best trails on any fourteener leads up to the summit of Handies Peak. Up there, the San Juan Range engulfs you in every direction. The best part? All of this beauty comes at the bargain price of only 6 miles round trip, provided you have a 4WD car that can reach the basin’s trailhead. With a short climb like that, time is on your side, so take it all in and enjoy. Get more info here.

Handies Peak WSA
Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management

HAVE YOU CLIMBED A 14ER? WHICH PEAKS ARE YOUR FAVORITES? LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW, TWEET ME, OR WRITE ME A POST ON FACEBOOK

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There are 26 comments on this post.

About the author

Hi! I'm Kristen....blogger, hiker, sunset-watcher, and dance floor shredder. I feel most alive in the outdoors and created this website to help you enjoy the best that the West has to offer.

26 Comments on “Colorado Peak Bagging: The 5 Best Beginner Fourteeners

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  1. Interesting peaks – and certainly a good list. However, in terms of an absolute beginner 14’er, Quandary Peak should be on the list. The hike is substantially shorter than most of those listed here and a good portion of the hike is shaded in trees, making it ideal for a beginner. It is also close to Breck, with plenty of nearby camping.

      Thanks for the recommendation Jason! I’ll definitely have to check that one out. -Kristen

    Great article!!! 🙂 Thank you!! 🙂

    Yup. Quandary should be first on that list. Due to location, parking, accessibility for just about any car to make it to TH. Difficulty of climb and low avy danger and just the perfect beginner 14er! I’ve taken MANY up this as their first.

      Thanks! I’ll definitely take a look at that one. Appreciate the suggestion! -Kristen

    Quandary is a winner for me. Super easy if you go up and down on the same trail and NOT try the back side.

      Thanks Sally! Appreciate the tip, and I’ll definitely take a look at that one. I’m sure there are more than 5 that would be great for beginners. Thanks again for stopping by! -Kriten

    Would like to see articles like these include general location like nearest city or something. I know there’s always google but it’s not always clear and accurate.

      David – That’s a great suggestion. Thanks so much, and I’ll definitely keep that in mind for the future. -Kristen

    Huron is smack dab in the middle of 14er central. No sign of civilization whatsoever at the top. As with all the Sawatch peaks the trailhead is kind of low, so you climb quite a bit of vertical feet, but it is only around 7 miles rountrip. There are Wildflowers on the hike, there are ghost towns on the way to, and plenty of camping.

      Huron sounds fantastic. Thanks for the recommendation! -Kristen

    As a former mission Cordinator, Rescue member of Vail Mountain Rescue Group that helps hikers on Holy Cross, I really disagree that it is for beginners. The lack of a trail in the boulder field and hiking thru boulders the size of cars and houses, the turn on the ridge that many forget on the way down , the fact that weather often comes in and you can’t always see it until it is ontop of you; has lead to weekly lost/and injured hikers for the 25 years I was part of this group (and still does). At the Beaver Creek Hiking Center, we won’t consider taking anyone up it until they have done several others. You may want to rethink that one…

      Hey Sharon – Thanks so much for chiming in. I’m definitely going to pass this feedback on to Ben and Jenna who wrote the article and see what they say. Thanks again and appreciate you stopping by. -Kristen

      Great call on Holy Cross. This is NOT a beginner 14er. Day trip is a minimum of 11 hours round trip. Comments on route finding on the decent are completely accurate.

      Do not take nature for granted and do this climb if it is your first.

      That being said, if you have experience or an experienced person in your group this is a very rewarding 14er climb! Do it!

      Hello Sharon!

      Thank you for your insight on Holy Cross. I hope anyone who is looking at this as a total first timer sticks to Bierstadt, Sherman, Quandary, or Greys and Torreys.

      Originally, this post was a collection of “First” fourteeners. Eventually, we modified it to be “beginner” since you can only have one first fourteener, it started to get confusing. That said, my intention with including Holy Cross was as a “first fourteener backpacking trip.” The hope was that after someone has accomplished some fourteeners as dayhikes, they would want to expand to climbing a fourteener as part of an overnight backpack trip. With some 14er experience, the shorter (but still overnight length) distance, and the amazing beauty of the wilderness area, Holy Cross seemed ideal.

      I should have put Holy Cross lower on the list and made the above assumptions more clear. I actually had to support a hiker suffering from AMS down Holy Cross when I climbed it so I completely understand your concerns with people taking it too lightly and unprepared.

      Thank you again for your feedback!

    Quandary is a flirt–an evil, finicky bitch 😉 Sometimes she will let you do her; sometimes she won’t. Definitely don’t try her backside 😀 On a more serious note, don’t forget Decalibron. Equally easy yet equally finicky.

      Thanks for the tips! I’ll be sure to check those ones out.

    I’ve only climbed one fourteener and it was Pikes Peak. I’m from Iowa, so the elevation here is around 650 ft. My parents and I decided to climb it the last day we were in Colorado because well why not?! We did the whole Barr Trail in one day and had a ride waiting for us at the top. It was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever done! Took us 10 hours and when we got to the top I was so happy to be done! Not an ideal first fourteener I’m guessing?? 🙂

      Wow Avery! What a cool story. You know I haven’t done that one, so I can’t really say, but either way it sounds like you crushed it. And what a fun experience to have with your parents. Have you heard about my #CrankItUpANotch giveaway? If you’ve got some good pics from your trip, you should enter them. Details here: https://bearfoottheory.com/mountain-hardwear-ozonic-giveaway/

        Avery was in pretty good shape to just go and “WTH, let’s climb the Barr trail … If I remember correctly it’s 12 miles and 8500 ft of elevation change, grouped into a brutal 1st 3 miles, 6 miles of gentle climbing then 3 more above treeline to really make you reflect on recent decisions (like the one to climb this trail!) My squadron did it as a group hike when I was stationed there in 2000-2003. One year we hiked it 2 weeks after a German guy from the Alps got blasted (killed) by lightning in Devils Playground … We wound up hiding under rocks mid-afternoon during a “thundersnow” b4 we could go the last 1500 ft/2 miles …

    Great website! Looks like you’ve really taken advantage of growing up in CO. I’m always perplexed when I meet CO natives who don’t hike; it’s like what else have you been doing this whole time?!

    I’ve only hiked a few 14ers since moving here but I hike a lot and I’ve hiked most of the trails in RMNP at least once at this point (ok more like 75% of the trails). I hiked Long’s Peak this summer and I’m glad to see you did NOT include that in your list! I’ve seen it on a few people’s websites as one of the best 14ers in CO, and also as one of the easiest. It certainly is not an easy climb and beginners shouldn’t be climbing it. I’m surprised more people don’t die up there each year. It has an average of about 2 deaths a year and with areas like the Narrows and the Homestretch where one wrong move = a quick slide down nearly vertical rock walls before being flung out into open air and a 2,000ft + fall to your death.It was fun but definitely not safe for your first 14er.

    Great and inspiring list!! 🙂

    Thank you for posting this Kristen! Climbing a 14er in Colorado is on our bucket list, and this post is one we will certainly consult when we visit!

    Grays and Torreys were my 4th and 5th 14ers. After summiting Grays I was spent but the pull of Torreys was too much. Glad I did them both. Great site.

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